Ocean brawlers: Whale watchers get rare view of orcas and humpbacks fighting in Salish Sea

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Members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) caught a rare view of aggressive exercise between two giants of the ocean on Thursday, when a big group of transient Bigg’s orcas squared off with a pair of humpback whales over the course of a couple of hours.

Capt. Joe Zelwietro of Eagle Wing Tours noticed a gaggle of about 15 killer whales being “unusually energetic” in the Juan de Fuca Strait, a stretch of the Salish Sea between Vancouver Island and Washington state, shortly after 11 a.m. PT, the PWWA stated. 

A couple of minutes later, Capt. Jimmy Zakreski of B.C. Whale Tours observed there have been two humpback whales in the center of the group of orcas, the affiliation stated.

“Around these elements, it is quite common for us to come across orcas. It’s additionally quite common for us to come across humpbacks,” stated PWWA government director Erin Gless in an interview.

“It is not quite common for us to come across them in the center of a brawl.”

Bigg’s orcas (foreground) work together with a humpback whale blowing out water in the Juan de Fuca Strait on Thursday. (Mollie Naccarato/PWWA)

During the three-hour encounter, which occurred round 40 kilometres west of Victoria, observers say the mammals breached, slapped the water with their tails and made loud vocalizations earlier than they lastly disappeared into the fog.

“I’m nonetheless making an attempt to wrap my head round it as a result of it was completely unbelievable,” stated Mollie Naccarato, a captain and naturalist with Sooke Coastal Explorations on south Vancouver Island.

“At first the orcas appeared to be chasing the humpbacks, however then when there was area between them, the humpbacks would return towards the orcas.” 

Gless says the orcas had been seen circling the 2 humpbacks and sometimes nipped at their flippers and tails.

Territorial or predatory?

Bigg’s orcas feed on marine mammals reminiscent of seals, sea lions, and porpoises, however do sometimes hunt bigger prey, she stated. That’s in distinction to the northern and southern resident orca teams, which feed totally on fish.

“Orcas are the one pure predator that humpback whales have in this area,” Gless stated. “Even although humpback whales can get to be the dimensions of a faculty bus, a gaggle of very skilled hunters can assault [them].”

Gless says there was some debate amongst whale watchers who witnessed Thursday’s communication as as to whether the behaviour was territorial or predatory.

Some imagine the killer whales had been appearing surprisingly as a result of they had been irritated in regards to the humpbacks being on their turf, whereas others thought the group of orcas confirmed a couple of of the typical logos of a gaggle looking method.

“We noticed some of that splashing round … getting on high of the again of the humpbacks as they had been making an attempt to breathe,” she stated. 

The humpback whales concerned had been recognized as BCX1948, referred to as Reaper, and BCY1000, referred to as Hydra.

Reaper is no less than 4 years previous and has been matched to winter breeding grounds off Jalisco, Mexico; Hydra, an grownup feminine, has been matched to breeding grounds in Maui, Hawaii, the place she’s given delivery to no less than three calves.

Mollie Naccarato of Sooke Coastal Explorations bought this close-up shot of the 2 humpbacks, named Reaper and Hydra, that had been concerned in a standoff with a gaggle of killer whales in the Salish Sea on Thursday. (Mollie Naccarato/PWWA)

Gless says no person noticed how the battle was resolved as a result of it was notably foggy when either side swam off. A couple of teams shall be again out on the water Friday, making an attempt to identify the 2 humpbacks to see in the event that they made it out alive.

Gless says the orcas’ behaviour wasn’t fully out of the unusual however it’s an encounter whale watchers have not often witnessed, particularly not up shut. 

“We actually bought to see one thing spectacular,” she stated.

But it might develop into extra widespread because the populations of each species proceed to develop, she added. 

A Bigg’s orca is seen prowling the Salish Sea throughout a confrontation between a gaggle of round 15 killer whales and 2 humpbacks on Thursday. (Mollie Naccarato/PWWA)

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